Welcome to the News desk.
|New Welsh racecourse Ffos Las not short on ambition
| Greg Wood
As claims to fame go, "the second new racecourse to open in the last
15 months" is hardly as impressive as "the first new track for 80 years", but
the operators of Ffos Las in south-west Wales will not worry too much about
that. By every measure that matters, Ffos Las does not belong on the same page
as Great Leighs in Essex, never mind in the same paragraph, and eight days from
now, a sell-out crowd of 10,000 will find out why.
Great Leighs was half-finished when it opened in
April 2008, and no closer to completion when it closed, possibly for good, nine
months later. Ffos Las, about six miles from Llanelli, is not just finished,
but built to last.
From the stabling to the staff hostel, the weighing
room to the grandstand and the bars to medical centre, it seems that no detail
has been overlooked.
All it needs
to do now is attract some horses and, given the immaculate state of the
12-furlong oval turf course, that will present no problem at all. The bends,
meanwhile, are so generous and turn so evenly that even the longest-striding
horse will fly around them without a second thought. Has there ever been
a racecourse in Britain that could make so many boasts on its opening day?
"A lot of racecourses are where they are because in the 1800s, Lord
So-and-So had a match against the neighbouring squire, and they've been racing
there ever since," Tim Long, the clerk of the course at Ffos Las, says.
"Not just that, but the reason why they decided to race there in the first
place was probably because it was no good for anything else, meaning that
it wasn't even good farmland. And you notice that at racecourses, it's usually
rough, old, heavy soil that modern racecourse managers have to deal with to try
and maintain this multi-million pound industry and sport.
"As for the
infrastructure, little bits and pieces get tacked on over the years, so when
you try to make it all work as a unit, it can be very difficult."
a few years ago, Ffos Las was the site of the largest opencast mine in Europe.
Then, when mining stopped, it was merely the continent's largest hole in the
ground. Now, there are skylarks, kestrels and buzzards overhead,
and another transformation is all but complete.
The Ffos Las
project has been driven by the vision and cash of Dai Walters, a
well-known jumps owner and local businessman, who acquired the land
several years ago and then resold a portion to a house-builder at
the top of the market, which helped to pay for the racecourse. Now, with
its opening day finally in sight, Walters is already looking to the
"I'm very proud of everything that's been done, and very
excited that it's done and dusted," Walters says. "This track will take the
very best horses, and Paul Nicholls has already told me that he'd run any of
"We have 28 fixtures next year, which we're very happy with,
and we have a three-day Flat festival in August. My real wish would be to have
mixed meetings, Flat and jumps, like they do at Galway, so I'm
going to be very nice to the authorities and see if I can persuade them.
"It's all about attracting crowds of people and making sure that they
Building a racecourse from scratch means that such
fundamentals as the drainage can be addressed from the start. There is also no
need for separate Tatts and Members enclosures, a division that largely belongs
to a bygone age.
"There's just one enclosure, which will be £13
for entry on a weekday," Long says. "Going forward, there are plans to
resurrect the Welsh Champion Hurdle, and I've no doubt that you'll see
that here in 2010, and hopefully it will be a proper trial for the Champion
Hurdle as well.
"We've also had plenty of interest from Ireland.
They've got too many horses and not enough racing there, and we're only an hour
from the ferry."
Great Leighs was and remains an
embarrassment. Eight days from today, though, the hot flush may start to fade
at long last.